Tuesday, July 30, 2013

20 Minnesota Twins Trades: The Arrival of Nick Punto

There was blood in the water.  A.J. Pierzynski was still warm.  The Twins had just turned one soon-to-be-expensive player into three shiny new parts, each carrying a much smaller price tag.  The Twins were carrying a seven-figure pitcher who was going to get even more expensive.  Why not swap him for a couple shiny new parts as well?

The Trade:  BREAKDOWN!

The Minnesota Twins traded Eric Milton to the Philadelphia Phillies for Carlos Silva, Nick Punto, and a player to be named later (Bobby Korecky). 

Silva immediately joined the Twins rotation and had a successful 2004 season, winning 14 games.  He would then set the Twins single-season BB/9 record in 2005, while posting a 3.44 ERA in 27 starts.  He kind of ballooned from there, but the Twins wisely let him leave as a free agent after the 2007 season.  Punto was a mythical figure in Minnesota.  Some loved him, others hated him.  Punto was both an inexpensive and productive utility player and an expensive, miscast starter, often going back and forth between the two.  Korecky was just a throw-in who threw 17.2 innings for the Twins in 2008. 

Milton was nothing special to begin with and never posted an above-average ERA+ for the remainder of his career.  He did lead the league in home runs allowed in 2004 and 2005.  The Phillies let Milton walk after the 2004 season and the Cincinnati Reds signed him to an insane three-year deal worth about $25 million. 

How did I feel at the time?

Eric Milton:  not a fan.  I didn't like him very much, so I wasn't hurt when the Twins sent him away.  Plus, I was still reeling from the All-Star A.J. trade.  I had dyed my hair purple, was wearing nose gauges and really, really tight pants.  Like, super tight pants.  It was a time of turmoil.  I hardly even let the Milton trade register.  I was too jaded. 

Why make the trade?

Sadly, as is true with so many Twins trades, this trade was money-related, according to this story from ESPN.com:

"By trading Milton, the Twins are trying to make room to re-sign their top two free agents, All-Star closer Eddie Guardado and outfielder Shannon Stewart. General manager Terry Ryan added that it gives Minnesota more flexibility to go after other players.  'It gives us the ability to at least pursue that," Ryan said. "You've got to give up something to get something.'"

This was back in the Metrodome days, so the payroll wasn't massive like it is now.  Wait, forget I said that.  However, the Twins were working with a budget and they did have to give to get.  In this case, they gave the right piece.  Silva and Stewart were productive the following year.  However, the Twins were not able to re-sign Guardado, as he left for Seattle.  However, they had just traded for Joe Nathan, so that worked out well.

The Phillies thought they had hit the jackpot.  Trade a spot starter and a utility guy for a quality lefty?  Sign them up! 

"Eric is a quality left-handed starter who will definitely be a plus for us in 2004," Wade said. "Our scouts, particularly Gordon Lakey and Charlie Manuel, really like this guy. We like the thought of having two left-handed starters near the top of the rotation."

Randy Wolf was the other "top of the rotation" lefty on the Phillies.  Wolf was the only starter on the 2004 Phillies with an ERA+ over 100, at 105.  Milton did give the Phillies 34 mediocre starts though. 

Here's why they needed him:

"The Phillies have been seeking another starter for the top of their rotation since Kevin Millwood filed for free agency last month. Philadelphia was interested in Curt Schilling, but the right-hander went to Boston in a trade with Arizona last week."

Missing out on Schilling was soothed with Eric Milton.  Eric Milton:  soothing ointment! 

Milton was happy:

"I'm happy for the opportunity. I'm glad the Phillies wanted me this badly," Milton said. "I'm just going to come there and try to win."

Whoa, whoa, whoa, Eric, no one said anything about wanting you that badly.  They traded Carlos Silva and Nick Punto to get you, so settle down a hair.  He did win 14 games and the Phillies were so enamored that they let him walk at the end of the season.

It sounds like I'm being overly critical of Eric Milton, which might be a bit unfair.  I just wonder how much love he'd get if he had just been an average to below-average right-hander?

"He's a very good pitcher, a classic left-hander," said Phillies pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, who saw Milton in the American League and who was with him on the 2000 Japan All-Star tour. "Eric has a solid, clean delivery with good arm speed and a very good change-up. He's quality."

The degree of quality is up to you to determine.  The 2000 Japan All-Star tour was epic, and thus, hard to shake from your memory.  I don't blame Kerrigan. 


This was a sneaky great trade for the Twins.  Milton was declining and getting to be outrageously expensive.  Silva and Punto weren't stars, but each provided cheap value for good Twins teams.  This is the kind of unsung deal that Terry Ryan doesn't get proper credit for.  He turned an overpaid, overrated starting pitcher into a younger starter who was actually better and a super utility guy who while frustrating, was often productive.  This trade also proves that a team doesn't always need to acquire hot prospects to make a good deal. 

Silva wasn't a great pitcher, but the Twins got a couple productive seasons out of him and cut bait before investing too much into him.  Plus, one of my friends in high school called him Car-lose Silva, which made great sense in his later days.

Punto likely should have never been a starting player.  He was more of a guy who could move around the infield, giving guys days off when they need them, all the while providing excellent defense wherever he was needed.  When the Twins signed him to that 2 year, $8 million dollar contract, the perception of Punto as a player got turned on its head.  He didn't merit that deal, but that doesn't mean he wasn't a nice player for a lot of years. 

Who won the WAR?

Milton for the Phillies:  1.4 WAR
Silva for the Twins:  9.0 WAR
Punto for the Twins:  10.2 WAR
Korecky for the Twins:  0.2 WAR

WAR won by the Twins!

One Sentence Summary

Nick Punto was not the anti-Christ and Carlos Silva looked like a pirate; easily enough value for soothing Eric Milton.

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